Kicking Horse Pass
A strange name for this spectacular pass that lies between Lake Louise, Alberta and Field, B.C.!
In 1858 the Palliser surveying expedition was given the task of finding a way across the Great Divide. In August of that year James Hector, a British medical doctor, geologist and natural historian, set out to search for mountain passes crossing this Continental Divide into the western river valley. He and his men camped at Wapta Falls. When a pack horse bolted James Hector gave chase, but as he rounded up the horse it kicked him, breaking his ribs.
James Hector was knocked unconscious. His guides thought he was dead, and had even gone so far as to select a site for his grave. It is said that he regained consciousness within a minute or two of being buried alive, and that he managed to wink an eye to show that he was still alive. This story is not officially recognized, but it adds to the adventure..... Hector recovered and he and his men followed the river east to its summit pass. "Both the river and the pass were named 'Kicking Horse' for Hector's ornery steed".
In 1885 Donald Smith drove the last spike that marked the fulfillment of a Confederation promise to build a railway in Canada, stretching from Sea to Sea. Nowhere had it been more difficult or treacherous than through the Rocky Mountains. West from Lake Louise the trains chugged up the mountain to Kicking Horse Pass, but once they had reach the top it was a deadly descent to the division point at Field - a hurtling drop of almost 300 meters in just over 6 kilometers at a grade of 4.5%. There were many accidents and several railroaders lost their lives. With 4 locomotives required to move even the shortest train up the mountain it was a costly endeavour.
In 1907 John. E. Schwitzer, a CPR design engineer, proposed the building of 2 spiral-shaped tunnels, with tracks that crossed over themselves in a figure 8. They were completed in 1909 and now, a hundred years later, are still used as part of the CPR Mainline.
Here is an excellent source of text and pictures.
And here is a video posted by Terry Rowsell on February 21st 2007.
We have not traveled this CPR route since our honeymoon, almost 64 years ago, and these days it is a pretty expensive trip by rail, but there is a fine viewpoint along the Trans Canada Highway which doesn't give you the thrill of the actual experience (especially if you are on your honeymoon) but does provide enough of a view to put one in awe of this engineering wonder. The trains which travel through Yoho National Park (Yoho is native for WOW) are no longer short, - nor do they require four locomotives, - at times the first locomotive is emerging from the second tunnel while the caboose is just disappearing into the first tunnel, on its way to making an almost complete circle within the mountain.
Come and see this splendid engineering feat and the spectacular mountains that surround it.....